What Father Alazon Lustlieb discoveredon April 1, 1978, in that hallowed cave overlooking Bear Lake, was a set of twelve ancient sheepskin Scrolls, neatly arranged within the folds of what he later described to his four disciples as “a very old briefcase.” When we pressed him for an estimate of the age of that briefcase, he judged it to be four thousand years old, “give or take ﬁfty years.” He conceded that this was an estimate, and that the angel Michelle had provided him no information about the history of the documents. He added that the probable reason for her silence on this question was that, in order to preserve the aura of mystery with which divine manifestations are always attended, angels do not reveal the minor details of their revelations to prophets.
The briefcase, he emphasized, had never been opened. He veriﬁed this opinion by citing the expert testimony of a certiﬁed Beverly Hills locksmith (he could not remember her name). Once she had disengaged the rusty clasp, Father Lustlieb said, he paid her, quietly left the back room of her establishment (secrecy, he emphasized, was extremely important), went back to his uncle’s mansion, stole unobserved into the wine cellar (secrecy again being the motive), opened the briefcase, and found a trove of twelve ancient sheepskin Scrolls, all of them perfectly preserved. Each scroll was secured with a royal blue waxen seal, on which was stamped a single Ur-Hebrew word, aleph $ taw, for which there is no English equivalent. Each seal was also stamped with a tiny Ur-Hebrew number, indicating, he surmised, the order in which the Scrolls were to be translated and positioned within the ﬁnished text.
What follows in the main body of this volume are Father Lustlieb’s translations of those twelve sacred Scrolls, including the titles, which were present in the original.
“Who’s a famous Romantic poet?”
Mildred Budwieser looked across the queen-sized bed at her husband. She was sitting up straight and he was slouching, which was bad for his back but he did it anyway, just to be contrary. It was Monday evening, and she was requesting help on the daily Bugle crossword.
“How many letters?” Ed stared straight ahead at the screen, where a family of four was approaching rapture over an improved version of a major brand of tacos. But he could not appreciate their ecstasy. He had had a bad day. That afternoon his boss of two weeks had mortiﬁed him by accusing him of being a dead white male. Not in so many words, but. And just twenty minutes ago, during “Jeopardy,” his wife of forty-one years had humiliated him by pointing out that Alaska was not a continent.
“Eight letters,” said Mildred with a yawn. “No—nine. Two words. The second letter is an O.”
He fondled the mute button. The marvels of the electronic age made it possible for him to bring the voices of complete strangers like Pat and Vanna into the privacy of the Budwieser bedroom. The voices, as well as—here he ﬁngered the power button—the images. And he had the advantage. He could see and hear America’s Game, brought to him from the Sony Picture Studios; the stars of America’s Game could not see and hear him, already in his pajamas at 6:41 and the sun still up. He could see the glitter of their set; they could not see the downscale bedroom, decorated by Mildred in muddy browns and faded oranges and dull greens and furnished with garage-sale knickknacks. He could see them award prizes for luck and skill; they could not see him sitting up in bed and eating a huge dish of ice cream and strawberries, or Mildred alongside him, working on her crossword and inserting popcorn into a well-creamed face.
He could turn them on or shut them off with the ﬂick of a button. They were dependent on his whim. Power!
He released the mute button.
“Here’s our next puzzle,” said Pat, coming alive. “The category is Thing.”
“Oh,” added Pat, laughing at his mistake. “It’s our jackpot round. We’ve added a prize to the Wheel, called Mexico. What’s that all about, Charlie?”
Invisible but exuberant Charlie announced a trip south of the border worth 8,937 big ones. “You and your guest will ﬂy to Acapulco,” he promised in a conﬁdential tone, “where you’ll enjoy a week’s vacation in a luxurious hacienda featuring tennis and golf every day and long romantic walks along the beach every evening.”
“Make it knitting during the day,” said Mildred drily, “and I start to get interested.”
Make it cliff diving, thought Ed.
“And make it crosswords at night.”
“Let’s stick to the long romantic walks,” he murmured. But he wasn’t thinking of Mildred. He was thinking of a possible señorita. A certain . . . Beatrice, perhaps?
One morning not long ago, I awoke with a start from the dead of a dreamless sleep to find that I had no memory. I did not know where I was, or who, or what place I held in the commodious order of things. Nor did I know the answer to the prime questions: How did I come to be here? and Why? I was even innocent of the order of being to which I belonged.
But as I will recount, I have been able to decipher these enigmas and come to complete and total self-understanding, relying entirely on my powers of observation, reasoning, and more than a little reflection.
Benny Good had enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a truck driver. He had roamed the interstate highway system of America, transported a wide selection of its products from east to west and back again, eaten in a high percentage of its better truck stops, made the acquaintance of many of its friendliest truck stop waitresses, and talked his way out of more than his share of speeding tickets.
If, a short month ago, he had been asked to reflect on his life, Benny would have said that he had found happiness in his cho- sen profession. There were times when he missed Lucy, of course, but in his view the bliss of married life was overestimated by a small but vocal minority of the American public. Besides, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the other truckers, and the truck stop waitresses more than made up for the slight hole he felt in what may or may not have been a heart. As for the long hours he spent in the cab, they were not always solitary. There was of course the radio, with the country music and the talk shows that provide a trucker’s main source of entertainment. But there were also the occasional waifs who would accept his invitation to use his cab as a temporary home away from home.
We at the Myles Jr. Think Tank have been working on a very practical matter: a rear bumper on which is attached a streaming marquee.
The need for such a device became obvious to me while motoring on the local interstate. I observed that well over 84 percent of the vehicles on the road sported bumper stickers advertising their owners’ political and/or religious views, announcing their child’s academic achievements, or displaying a clever jest. Of these vehicles, approximately 91 percent exhibited two or more such stickers.
Given the speed at which the ordinary interstate vehicle travels, a high percentage (roughly 95 percent) of these brief missives are difficult to read. The exception, of course, is rush hour traffic, during which the poor motorist who is stuck behind a sticker-laden bumper must suffer the boredom of reading the same damn messages over and over again.
The solution to both circumstances came to me as a bolt from the blue similar, I surmise, to that which struck Isaac Newton, Madame Curie, Albert Einstein, and others of our ilk. Why not invent a bumper equipped with a large, legible streaming marquee capable of exhibiting an unlimited number of messages?
Such a marquee could be preprogrammed by the vehicle’s owner. It could also be programmed on the run—a keyboard could be embedded in the steering wheel for special occasions. (I am thinking of the many instances in which I have come across a car with a wobbly rear tire, a situation that has incited me to pass it, honking and pointing to the dangerous wheel, an act that often as not has caused the driver to respond by flashing an obscene gesture. This invention would eliminate that inferior mode of communication. The discerning driver would simply type a short message—YOUR LEFT REAR TIRE IS WOBBLING—and proceed to pass the offending vehicle, then moving adeptly into the proper lane.)
Granted, not all messages would be so magnanimous and humanitarian. I can envision a Volvo driving along advertising the fact, MY SON IS WORKING ON A PH.D. IN SELF-ASSEMBLING MONOLAYERS AT CAL TECH, followed by a Hummer whose driver is furiously programming in the information, MY SUN IZ MIDLE LINEBECHER FOR USC AN CAN BRAKE EVERY BONE IN YOU’RE SUNZ BODDY.
But I have a firm faith in the essential goodness of humanity. I believe that 54 percent of the drivers on the road would use this invention for positive purposes.
My first memory is of the Hamm orchard.
When we were little kids back in the mid ’forties, the first thing Karen and I would do when Dad’s brakeless ’36 Plymouth came rolling to a stop just before running into the irrigation ditch at the July 24 reunion would be to tumble out of the doors and windows and go thundering off to the orchard to join our cousins and Stan. Stan, who was unofficially known as Snake, had been adopted by Onkel Abe and Tante Anna and would still have been a student at Inverness High if he’d paid more attention to the rules. They’d picked him up either from an orphanage, which was Tante Anna’s story, or from a reform school, which was the more widely accepted theory.There were also different opinions of how he’d picked up the nickname. It was either because he enjoyed swimming in Beaver Reservoir on the Snake River, which was Tante Anna’s explanation, or because the name fit the reform school theory, which was Aunt Lena’s view of the matter. I myself leaned toward Aunt Lena’s opinion, figuring she was probably the one who’d started the practice of calling him Snake.
That a dropout from a rabbinical school in upstate New York, an ordinary young man with the ordinary young ambition of moving to Hollywood and becoming a ﬁlm star, should be chosen to discover and translate the now-famous Bear Lake Scrolls and then to establish what quickly has become the fastest-growing religion in America, seems incredible. I must confess that when Father Lustlieb ﬁrst told me his story, I too was skeptical. In fact, I thought it was a joke. But after spending eleven years in his illustrious presence and giving his testimony careful and prayerful study, I am convinced that Alazon Lustlieb was exactly who he claimed to be: a true prophet, and an authentic saint.
Naturally, I do not expect anyone to embrace my conviction without weighing the evidence. In our last private conversation, Father Lustlieb conﬁded that he was depending on me, his most trustworthy and capable disciple, to prove his legitimacy and to dispel the malicious rumors that were already beginning to arise about the origin of the Scrolls. He made it clear that he expected that when I came to publish this, the ﬁnal and authoritative edition of the Scrolls, I would demonstrate both the truth of his story and the authenticity of the Scrolls themselves.
Never let it be said that the Myles Jr. Think Tank is unaware of what is transpiring in the far-flung fields of science and technology. Some of our best thinkers are currently working on the relatively new field of nanotechnology (known to its detractors as nonotechnology).
For those readers who spend more time on the sports sections of newspapers than on the heavy stuff, let me explain, in brief, the nature of what the Washington Post calls “the hot young science of making invisibly tiny machines and materials.” Scientists are now able to manufacture things slighter of composition than one-thousandth the width of a human hair. This ability enables the medical crowd to create nanobots, tiny devices designed to float through human blood vessels in quest of diseases otherwise undetectable by a doctor during the annual three-minute medical exam.
A curious device, the nanobot. What it plans to do upon discovering a medical problem is an issue for another column. To the casual observer, the options appear to be (1) send in a more specialized nanobot to clean up the mess, (2) alert the attending physician to the problem, or (3) put in a call to the mortuary or furnace of the patient’s choice.
Yet there is a dispute brewing between the cautious and the bold. The nonotechnologists wish to think through the implications of this rapidly-developing field. Their concern is that nanotechnology is a potential if not actual Frankenstein, that the little machines can, perhaps even do, poison the environment and accumulate in the organs of our animal friends. Studies indeed seem to have proved this fear legitimate.
The bold, however, proceed with their experiments unabated, with faith in their axiom that smaller is better and that nanotechnology aggressively and intelligently practiced will solve the environmental problems with which we are obviously faced.
We at MJTT propose that this dispute can be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
Let us begin by stipulating that our environmental problems are caused in major part by the world’s overpopulation.
Given this fact, simple logic dictates that following the instincts of the bold has a distinct advantage, as can be seen in the following brief argument.
If unfettered nanotechnology solves our environmental problems, it solves our environmental problems, and the case is closed.
If, however, nonotechnology turns out to be correct—if, that is, nanotechnology is indeed a Frankenstein left to its own devices, it will be harmful to homo sapiens, i.e., it will reduce the population. Put simply, it will kill people. Put even more simply, if nanotechnology is a Trojan horse, if it fails, it will reduce the world’s overpopulation, thus solving our environmental problems, and the case is closed.
Thus MJTT concludes that nanotechnology, given free rein, is a win-win proposition. QED.
Let the nano revolution continue!
She buzzed around the patient, dressed in a tiny pink pant suit, armed with a line of ﬂoss.
“Open wide,” she sang.
He opened wide.
She accidentally rubbed up against him.
“Relax, Rabbi Scheinblum,” she said gaily. “I’m not going to hurt you. That’s Dr. Digby’s job.”
He ﬂinched again.
“Just kidding,” she reassured him. “My job is to take your mind off the coming pain.”
A major ﬂinch.
She ignored this response and launched into her assignment. One of the questions she’d been asking people as she ﬂossed them up for Dr. Digby was, what did they like best about Kirkland? If they were to name her the one thing they liked best about living in Kirkland, Kansas, one thing and one thing only, what would that one thing be?
They’d been saying it’s a nice conservative town. Still too much crime in the streets, maybe, and it was getting a little too big, in terms of population, but basically it was still a nice conservative town, knock on wood. They’d been mentioning the friendliness of the people. They’d been saying Kirkland was the kind of a place where family values were allowed to shine through, which accounted for the friendliness. They’d also been saying it was one big happy church-going community where everybody was free to go to the religion of his own choice and there were no long-haired Socialists—she guessed that maybe now they were called Liberals (this brought an indisputable ﬂinch)—and very, very few atheists, just a few long-haired philosophers out at the University, and nobody paid any attention to them anyway, except for maybe a few sophomores, who’d grow out of it just about the time they started applying for jobs in the appliance department at Sears.
[Narrator limps down aisle with aid of a shillelagh; climbs on stage, cheeks aflame; receives trophy; exchanges innocuous cheek kisses, etc., with both formally-suited male and sheer-gowned female luminaries; accepts applause from rising, broad-smiling audience, then directs decrescendo from fortissimo to pianissimo by gesture that recalls ancient rite of laying on of hands. Reaches up toward microphone; male luminary comes forward and adjusts it for him or her; Narrator speaks, with face set toward ceiling.]
I’d like to thank the Higher Power, or Powers—you know who you are—for sprinkling a wealth of clues in my modest corner of the earth. They greatly aided me in my quest to discover both my identity and my place in the vast arrangement of things. Without their help, I would not be standing before you today as the one who finally solved the enigma of our species’ place in the universe. Let’s give them a big hand. [Applause.]
[Casting a horizontal gaze]I’d also like to thank the little people in my life. First, Erma Cannon. If you’d please stand up, Erma . . . Rusty, could you tell Erma to stand up? . . . There. Let’s have a big hand for Ms. Cannon. [Applause.] And for Rusty “Chuck” Stubbs, who helped Erma stand up. [Mix of laughter and applause.]
Reginald and Regina? The Wrights? Yes. Good. And a hand for them. [Applause.] Reginald is the gentleman, Regina is the lady. That’s how I learned to tell them apart. [Laughter.]
You may sit down, Erma . . . (Rusty, could you please help Erma sit down?) [Laughter; smattering of applause.]
Fine. Now, Marta Smith. Where’s Marta? Oh, there she is—she’s the one riding on a cloud, floating from table to table, collecting autographs. I hope you don’t mind. She has a colossal collection and takes every opportunity to augment it. A hand for her single-minded search for celebrity signatures. [Applause.] Wave to everybody, Marta. Isn’t she something? [Continued applause.]
Now, Professor Calloway. Is Professor Calloway here? Professor Chlöe Calloway? Rusty, have you seen Professor Calloway? No? She’s probably at home, rearranging the jots and tittles of her dissertation. [Smattering of laughter.]Don’t laugh. She inspired the title of my novel. Doesn’t that deserve a hand, in absentia? [Applause.]
And where’s Maria? Maria Flo? [Suddenly struck.]Oh, I forgot. This was the day for her screen test. [Knowledgeable laughter.] But mark my words. One of these days she’ll be standing up here, giving her own acceptance speech. [Standing ovation.] No no. [Staying expression of audience enthusiasm with charismatic yet graceful gesture of the hand.]
Hold your applause. Save it for later. [Suddenly overcome with emotion.]What can I say?
[Preparing to leave stage.] Thank you. [Touching fingers to lips; blowing kisses to the assembled masses.] Thank you. [Raising trophy in triumphant yet unpretentious fashion.] Thank you very much. [Bowing in acknowledgement of applause, now at fff level; bowing again; repeating, in random order, many of the above-cited tokens of reply to the general zeal; finally descending from stage, making way through a thicket of hands greedy for a mere touch o’ the garment, moving slowly but inexorably to table occupied by the little people in his life.]